BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Clinical guidelines recommend physical activity to manage neck pain (NP) and low back pain (LBP). However, studies used to support these guidelines are based on self-reports of physical behaviour, which are prone to bias and misclassification. This systematic review aimed to investigate associations between objectively measured physical behaviour and the risk or prognosis of NP and/or LBP.
DATABASES AND DATA TREATMENT: Literature searches were performed in MEDLINE, Embase and Scopus from their inception until 18 January 2019. We considered prospective cohort studies for eligibility. Article selection, data extraction and critical appraisal were carried out by independent reviewers. Results were stratified on activity/sedentariness.
RESULTS: Ten articles out of 897 unique records identified met the inclusion criteria, of which eight studied working populations with mainly blue-collar workers. The overall results indicate that increased sitting time at work reduces the risk of NP and LBP while increased physical activity during work and/or leisure increases the risk of these conditions among blue-collar workers; however, associations were weak. Physical activity was not associated with prognosis of LBP (no studies investigated prognosis of NP). Most of the included articles have methodological shortcomings.
CONCLUSIONS: This review indicates that, among blue-collar workers, increased sitting at work may protect against NP and LBP while increased physical activity during work and/or leisure may increase this risk. There was no evidence supporting physical activity as a prognostic factor for LBP. Findings should be interpreted with caution due to the weak associations and few available studies with methodological shortcomings.
SIGNIFICANCE: Based on prospective cohort studies with objectively measured physical behaviour, this review questions the common notion that increased physical activity is associated with reduced risk or better prognosis of NP and/or LBP. We found that, among blue-collar workers, increased sitting time at work reduces the risk of NP and LBP, whereas physical activity somewhat increases the risk. Despite methodological shortcomings, there was consistency in the direction of the results, although high-quality articles reported the weakest associations. Systematic review registration: PROSPERO CRD42018100765.